For modern-day parents, wrestling with technology is a universal challenge. While we all want to protect our kids (and their growing brains and impressionable minds), we also want them to thrive in a digital-first world. That’s why it’s so important to know the truth about technology, and that starts with sorting out myths from facts.
Knowing how to spot overreaction and outright untruths will go a long ways toward helping you make better parenting choices. However, it’s important not to swing too hard in the other direction, either. We shouldn’t unnecessarily demonize technology, but that doesn’t mean you should give your kids blanket permission to stay glued to their screens all day. Like most everything in life, moderation and balance is usually the best approach.
Here are 10 of the most common misconceptions about what technology is doing to your kids — and the real facts behind each.
1. Video Games Make Your Kids Fat and Lazy
Video games just encourage kids to want to sit in dark rooms alone, right? Wrong. Actually, studies show that gaming can be quite the social activity because, it turns out, kids enjoy playing video and computer games together. “In fact, systematic surveys have shown that regular video-game players are, if anything, more physically fit, less likely to be obese, more likely to also enjoy outdoor play, more socially engaged, more socially well-adjusted, and more civic minded than are their non-gaming peers,” says Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College, in Psychology Today.
2. More Screen Time Means Less Play
We know correlation doesn’t always equal causation, but this fact seems to be conveniently forgotten in the fierce debate over technology. For example, there’s a general paranoia that technology is stealing active playtime away from our kids. It’s just not true. Simply removing screen time does not magically mean children will become more active. In fact, according to Reuters, they don’t seem to be linked at all.
3. Social Media Isn’t Real Connection
While many parents dismiss social media as vapid and time-wasting, researchers have identified numerous benefits of engaging with this form of technology. While not a substitute for face-to-face interaction, social media is still a means of human communication. Social media can facilitate substantial interaction (often when physical interaction is just not possible), build a sense of community and belonging among users, allow people to seek help or advice when they need it, and inspire political change and social movements.
4. Screens Are Destroying Literacy
There’s a common belief that the prevalence of screens is sucking the joy of books right out of our children’s hearts. If there’s a screen nearby, the thinking goes, what child could possibly want to read a book? This turns out to be only partially true: Many kids will opt for screens over books. What is not true is that they want to read on those screens. Given the choice, they seem to prefer printed books for reading. This indicates that as long as you keep technology in its place, kids will happily come back to “real” books when they’re done.
5. Technology Ruins Relationships
Much of the technology debate revolves around the notion that digital interactions aren’t “real” (see Point 3). However, studies show that the more platforms on which young adults can communicate with their parents, the more satisfaction kids take from those relationships. And what parent doesn’t want more opportunities for connecting with their children?
6. Kids Don’t Want to Play Educational Games
One common belief holds that we shouldn’t allow video or computer games because kids will automatically choose the most violent or mindless. The reality is that educational games are often a hit. In fact, they can even increase students’ motivation to learn overall. Teachers across the country are joining the “gaming for good” movement. The number of K-12 teachers in the U.S. using game-based learning in their classrooms more than doubled from 23 percent in 2010 to 48 percent in 2015.
7. Video Games Are Mindless
Video games have replaced television as the primary culprit of “media that rots your brain,” but even as far back as 2002, researchers recognized their value in an educational setting. Researchers have found that playing video games has long-lasting positive effects on basic mental processes, such as memory, decision making, and attention. In an article for the American Journal of Play, a trio of researchers write: “Although many individuals may still consider video games nothing more than mindless fun, the authors argue that games serve also as serious tools for good.” They note that educators use gaming for practical, real-world purposes such as training surgeons and rehabilitating people with perceptual or cognitive problems.
8. All Screen Time Is Bad for You
Many parents assume that all screen time is created equal, and consequently opt out of the decision-making process by lumping all types of media together and attempting to limit it as much as possible. More and more research is coming out that strongly suggests parents should focus on the quality, not the quantity, of their kids’ screen time. That’s because some screen time can actually be good for your kids, improving their mental well-being and social skills. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recognized this when it relaxed its guidelines for screen time in 2016.
9. Social Media Turns Kids Into Cyberbullies
As they say, don’t shoot the messenger. Kids who go online to bully other kids are likely facing other problems in “real life,” including low self-esteem, anger, frustration, and a variety of other emotional and psychological problems. Social media is just the platform where they choose to act out. Previous generations might have chosen to pick on kids on the playground. Research also finds that traditional bullying is still more common than cyberbulling; and those that are bullied at school are bullied online and those who bully at school bully online.